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Sebring: Ian Baas preview

Noblesville, Ind.'s Baas, the 2006 Rolex 24 GT Winner, To Compete in SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Events Starting with Season Opener Friday at Sebring NOBLESVILLE, Ind., March 12 - Formula cars and stock cars headline the events at the ...

Noblesville, Ind.'s Baas, the 2006 Rolex 24 GT Winner, To Compete in SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Events Starting with Season Opener Friday at Sebring

NOBLESVILLE, Ind., March 12 - Formula cars and stock cars headline the events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway each year, but Noblesville, Ind., some 21 miles north of Speedway, has produced one of America's rising stars in a different form of the sport - sports car racing.

Ian Baas, 24, born and raised in Noblesville, won the most prestigious endurance sports car race in North America, the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, last year in the GT class. The 2002 graduate of Cathedral High School also finished second in the grueling Watkins Glen Six-Hour race last year. He's also been on the podium in one of the American Le Mans Series' premier races, the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, placing second in the GT2 class in 2005.

This year Baas (his surname is pronounced "Boss"), is scheduled to compete in all 10 races of the SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Series, which is carried on the TV network that shares its name. Its season opener is this Friday, March 16, at Sebring, Fla., on the same card as the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring American Le Mans Series race.

Like many other professional race cars drivers, Baas honed his skills not only in the States but also on some of Europe's legendary road courses. He spent the bulk of last year driving a Porsche before crowds of 20,000-and-more diehard sports car fans at tracks most Americans only read about, like Hockenheim, Spa-Francorchamps, Brands Hatch, Zandvoort and Nurburgring.

He hasn't turned his back on his roots though. He achieved a life-long dream of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last July, finishing third in a Porsche Super Cup race that supported the U.S. Grand Prix.

He began his career in Formula Fords, advancing to the tough Cooper Tires Formula Ford Zetec Series and winning the 2004 Monoposto Vintage Formula Atlantic championship.

This year his primary focus is the SPEED World Challenge Touring Car series, where he'll drive for one of the top teams, STaSIS Motorsport. It campaigns Audis against a brigade of Acuras, Mazdas and BMWs. Baas will be buckled into the red and silver No. 18 Audi A4 for his rookie season in the series.

Veterans Chip Herr, who finished third in the point standings last year, and Dino Crescentini, who finished 13th, will drive similar cars for the Sonoma, Calif.-based team, which has MAHLE Powertrain (formerly Cosworth Technologies) as its engine and technology partner.

Most SPEED World Challenge Touring Car races are 50 minutes in length. The Sebring season opener will air on SPEED on Sunday, March 25 at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time.

Following that event the Touring Car series travels to Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah May 17-19; Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn. May 25-28; Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, N.Y. for two races June 8-10; Exhibition Place in Toronto July 6-8; Mosport Int'l Raceway in Bowmanville, Ontario Aug. 24-26; Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga. Oct. 3-5; and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., Oct. 19-21. The location of another race July 20-22 has not been released yet.

Baas is also scheduled to compete in selected Grand-Am Rolex Series races this year, including the Linde Industrial Komatsu Grand Prix of Miami that comes up at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla., on Saturday afternoon, March 24, sandwiched between the Indy Pro Series and IndyCar season openers. He'll drive the blue No. 28 Porsche 997 GT car fielded by At Speed Motorsports in that event, with Bob Miller of Sykesville, Md. as his co-driver and Celette and Ian Global Shipping as sponsors. The Rolex Series race will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Eastern time later that night on SPEED.

Baas' car didn't fare well in this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Rolex Series' season opener, dropping out with a little less than 11 hours complete when one of his co-drivers was involved in an accident. The car has been rebuilt since then, and Baas will test it at VIRginia International Raceway in Alton, Va., during the week between the Sebring and Homestead races.

Baas' tentative schedule shows him competing in all of the remaining Rolex Series GT races this year except for the ones at Laguna Seca May 17-20 and at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., on July 19-22. After Homestead he's scheduled to race the Porsche at VIRginia Int'l Raceway April 26-29; Lime Rock Park May 25-28; Watkins Glen June 8-9; the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio June 21-24; Daytona Int'l Speedway July 5; Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa July 11-14; Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal Aug. 3 and Miller Motorsports Park Sept. 12-15. The bulk of those races will be a little less than three hours in length.

The Memorial Day and June 8-10 weekends will be especially busy for Baas. Over the Memorial Day holiday he'll be competing in both cars at Lime Rock Park. On June 8-10 he has two Touring Car races in the Audi plus the tough Watkins Glen Six-Hour enduro in the Porsche at Watkins Glen.

"My goal this year is to win the Touring Car Championship," Baas said with conviction. "I'm not doing all the Rolex Series races, so my goal for that series is to have the best results I can have in the opportunities that I have.

"Competing in Europe last year really helped me step up my game," he added. "It gave me a whole new definition of what it's like to drive 100 percent. They take their sports car racing very seriously over there, and they have really fast drivers. They can drive a bad car fast. It was a big awakening for me to see what the European drivers can do with a car that isn't handling well.

"When I started racing at the SCCA Club level and in vintage racing, you could race at 80 percent and still be in the top five. That's impossible in Pro racing in Europe," he continued. "There was pressure on me to learn the tracks very quickly, and pressure to come up to speed very fast. I always feel like I should be winning all the time, but it was a tough learning curve for me when I had to learn the tracks that were new to me and I was racing against veterans who had been driving on those same tracks for years. But I think driving in Europe was a rite of passage for me. I had to go through that in order to improve. It gave me credibility, and I know it helped me improve my skills."

Baas is looking forward to racing at Sebring. He likes the track despite its famous bumps. He loves the festival atmosphere that engulfs the event, a traditional hot spot for students on spring break.

"Sebring's first and last turns are unbelievable," Baas said. "They're very challenging to begin with, and then when you add the bumps, there's really nothing like it anywhere else. I finished fifth there in a Formula Ford 2000 Zetec race there in 2004, and I ran a Porsche RSR there with Randy Pobst in the ALMS race in 2005. We qualified sixth but we didn't finish.

"It'll be my first SPEED World Challenge race, but the car will be prepared well," he said. "I'll have a chance to win, and I definitely want to be there at the end and finish in the top five. It'll be a 50-minute race, and there won't be any time for mistakes.

"We tested the Audi twice at Infineon and once at Thunder Hill over the winter, and I think we're going to be fast," he added. "The cars handle extremely well."

Baas is also looking forward to racing against Pobst, one of his former teammates, in the Touring Car series this year. "I look up to him a lot," he said. "We've never been able to race against each other before, and I know I'm really looking forward to it."

As far as the race at Homestead goes, Baas isn't quite sure what to expect there for several reasons. "I tested a Porsche 996 on the road course there but I've never raced there," he said. "I also don't know where we'll be with our car. The car without the 2007 engine updates was unbelievable at Daytona, and we'll have the 2007 updates for Homestead. But we had to replace the whole front of the car after the crash at the Rolex 24, so I don't know where we'll be at Homestead. We'll test the Porsche at VIR between Sebring and Homestead, and hopefully we'll be OK when we get to Homestead."

Fans can keep up with Baas throughout the year on his Web site at ianbaasracing.com, which will include blogs and photos as well as race results.

-credit: restart communications

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Series PWC
Drivers Randy Pobst , Gilles Villeneuve , Bob Miller , Chip Herr , Ian Baas , Dino Crescentini